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Something Erie Is Going on at Scripps

Some other groups saw a couple of also-ran stations in wheezing Rust Belt markets. But Scripps saw opportunity, and the company is now spending money there to make money.

On June 16, Scripps announced it had closed on its $110 million acquisition of WMYD Detroit and WKBW Buffalo, and hours later, launched a 10 p.m. newscast on the Detroit station, a MyNetworkTV affiliate.

The primetime news is but one of a number of expansions planned for WXYZ’s new sister. WMYD will likely launch morning news later this summer, going up against WJBK’s local morning show in the 7 a.m. slot, and hire dozens more staffers. WXYZ had around 190 employees at the start of the year, and the duopoly will grow to around 250. That’s a big deal anywhere, but particularly so in troubled Detroit.

“Our owner has doubled down on Detroit,” said Ed Fernandez, WXYZ-WMYD VP and general manager. “Scripps believes in Detroit and they back it up.”

Christmas in June

WKBW is also feeling the love after years of neglect under Granite. The station is getting its first market research in a decade, said VP and general manager Michael Nurse. It is now a Nielsen subscriber, and has also signed on to share CNN and AP content—arrangements deemed too pricey before. Nurse mentions a six-figure rebuild of the newsroom, new gear such as LiveU packs and WiFi-enabled cameras, a new graphics system, and a steady stream of Scripps brass, such as VP of news Sean McLaughlin, senior VP Brian Lawlor and VP of engineering Ray Thurber, explaining the strategic plan and workflow to staffers.

“I’ve seen more people from corporate in the last 10 days than I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” said Nurse. “They are really committed to this.”

The visitors from Cincinnati and the “flood” of new equipment, in Nurse’s words, are doing much to change the mood at Buffalo’s ABC affiliate. “There’s a real focus on improving the product and putting news first as an organization,” he said. “People are real excited because they’re seeing the investment in the product.”

WKBW too might expand news; weekends are getting consideration. “It’s like Christmas here,” summed up Nurse.

WKBW and WMYD are in highly competitive markets where local ad dollars are bitterly fought over. Scripps liked the deal because it increases by one its substantial trove of ABC affiliates, creates a duopoly in DMA No. 11 and builds a regional cluster along Lake Erie in WXYZ, WKBW and WEWS Cleveland. (Fernandez is a regional general manager, with oversight of Cleveland, Indianapolis and Kansas City, as well as Azteca affiliates in Denver and Colorado.)

WMYD too is now a Nielsen subscriber. Its 10 p.m. news features WXYZ talent, but is a livelier and less traditional newscast than the 11 p.m. on the ABC affiliate, said Fernandez. “There’s a lot more energy, a lot more activity in the newsroom,” he added.

The 10 p.m.’s mid-June debut was a “stealth launch,” said Fernandez, with more intense marketing coming in advance of a harder launch in early July. “We have to make sure the product is baked properly,” he said.

WMYD took in $14.3 million in 2013, according to BIA/Kelsey estimates, a figure that has slipped over the years during Granite’s ownership. MyNetworkTV (MNT) likely sees Scripps’ ownership as an upgrade. “Detroit is a great MyNetworkTV market,” Paul Franklin, MNT executive VP, said in a statement. “As we prepare to launch our fall lineup, we look forward to working with our new station partners.”

The acquisitions also give Scripps more outlets on which to air its homegrown multimarket shows such as access programs The List and Let’s Ask America. This fall, Scripps debuts The Now, a newsy live show that features a national desk in Denver and local flavor from its stations around the nation. WXYZ debuts it in September.

While Detroit’s turnaround has been rumored for years, Fernandez is ebullient on the market’s—and the new duopoly’s—future. “Detroit is going through an enormous metamorphosis,” he said, “and the company wants to be part of that.”